Emma Raducanu hirples out of Wimbledon, clutching her stomach
All over the land, parents of teenagers seemingly intent on idling away the summer glued to Love Island on TV might have been wondering when would be a good moment to pose the question … “Why can’t you be more like Emma Raducanu?”
But in her peers’ defence, the 18-year-old A-level student is making for a pretty incredible, and completely intimidating, role model. Not just a girl with a wholesome hobby who’s sticking in at school, she’s Britain’s new tennis darling.
Last night on No 1 Court, though, she couldn’t quite continue the fairytale. Ajla Tomljanovic was just too strong for her and perhaps the pressure of so much giddy dreaming was just too much.
Clutching her stomach as the Croatian-born Australian tightened a grip of the fourth-round match, Raducanu at one set and three-love down requested medical help, hurried off court and never returned. The crowd groaned. This hadn’t been the happy ending they’d craved. “I’m really sorry for Emma,” said Tomljanovic as she accepted a “bittersweet” path into today’s quarter-finals. “She must be really hurt to have had to retire. I hope she’s okay.”
Wimbledon had been beside itself with excitement. Born in Canada to a Romanian father and Chinese mother, Raducanu had been claimed by England and those dreams were double-bills: the first home player to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish since 1979 and Virginia Wade - and Harry Kane doing likewise with some football trinket or other.
Was tennis really coming home? Raducanu was striving to make the last-ever Manic Monday memorable, marvellous and - “Oh I say!” - Maskell-esque. Dear old Dan was the commentator for Ginny triumph and now another girl from Kent was hoping to repeat the feat that had eluded so many since. And most of them had been on TV in lead-up urging everyone not to get too carried away but, yes, Raducanu appeared to be the real deal.
It had been set fair for a famous night. Well, it was soggy, the rain ending play elsewhere, but No 1 had the roof. And the billing for this contest was very much good girl versus bad girl.
On one side of the net, a player who had her maths teacher trilling: “She’s simply lovely.” On the other side, a player who had her previous opponent accusing her of “terrible, terrible behaviour”.
That was Jelena Ostapenko after the former French Open champ was herself accused of faking injury. Ostapenko called a medical time-out when 4-0 down in the final set on Saturday, only for Tomljanovic to complain to the umpire: “You know she’s lying, right?”
Whether or not she had a point, Tomljanovic’s attack was unlikely to have gone down well with the polite SW19 massive. Not cricket and more crucially it’s not tennis. “She will definitely have the crowd,” Tomljanovic had said of Raducanu. You bet.
They cheered Raducanu’s winners; they applauded Tomljanovic’s double-faults. But early on Raducanu was double-faulting, too. Nerves, perhaps, but that was hardly surprising. Imagine the weight of expectation as being like the matronly bosom of a Home Counties club secretary. The fans were always willing to lift - Raducana’s spirits, that is, not the bosom.
Away from tennis Raducanu is waiting for the results of A-levels in maths and economics. Such a studious nature may be at odds with the grey matter quotient on Love Island - the ability to count beyond eight proved challenging for previous contestants, while one was under the impression the language spoken in Holland was Hollandaise - but who’s to say Raducanu doesn’t watch the show during downtime in her Covid bubble?
After all, she can seem like any normal teen when asked what she’s most enjoyed about the Wimbledon experience and without hesitation has replied: “The food!”
If she does indulge in the occasional bout of trashy telly, that little nugget has yet to be revealed - but don’t worry, it will. To assemble the fullest picture of her life to date - just 18 years, don’t forget - profilers have been racing each other round her school, her friends, her old ballet academy and the go-karting club where, it’s probably safe to assume, she was no less competitive than when chasing down her opponents’ shots at the back of the court.
This time, though, and under this much pressure, her returns on the run weren’t quite finding the corners. In the sixth game Raducanu found some rhythm with two sizzling passes, both off a backhand which is surely destined for its own Twitter page one day soon. In the seventh, a first break point. Next time on Tomljanovic’s serve she fired a forehand straight at her, causing her opponent’s legs to buckle. Two more break points, again saved.
Then it was Tomljanovic’s turn to sniff an opportunity. She targeted Raducanu’s forehand, sensing it being weaker. But four times on that side Raducanu battered the ball right back. It was tense - very. Saturday, first time on No 1 and heck, only Raducanu’s fifth match ever at the top level, had been all about smiling, bouncing and “fun”. This was serious. Serving to stay in the set she dug in to win the longest rally thus far - 29 shots - but then overhit.
One set down, the crowd revived an old chant for their young star - “Uggy uggy uggi, oi oi oi!” But Raducanu quickly lost her serve. Shots which were flying over the net on Saturday were now being buried in it. She was in obvious discomfort, hand to tummy after every point, and then it was all over, with no complaint this time from her opponent, given that the new star had surrendered the match and - for now at least - the dream.
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